Apple-Google contact tracing project originated at Apple, developed 'within weeks'

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 2020
The Apple and Google contact tracing technology, which will roll out on May 1, was developed and launched by a handful of Apple employees in less than a month, according to a new report.

The contact tracing system, now known as exposure notification, will alert an iPhone or Android user if they've recently come into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19
The contact tracing system, now known as exposure notification, will alert an iPhone or Android user if they've recently come into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19


Contact tracing, a method to track the spread of a disease by monitoring who an infected person may have come into contact with, is typically painstaking. The Apple and Google system, now known by the more accurate "exposure notification" moniker, largely simplifies and automates this process using smartphones.

According to a new report from CNBC, the idea originated in mid-March from a small team at Apple who was brainstorming ways to help curb the coronavirus. At the time, those staffers knew that smartphones could be key to loosening stay-at-home restrictions.

Notably, the speed of the project was "highly unusual" for Apple, the result of team members working to come up with a solution in time to help mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19. Within a "few weeks," there were dozen of Apple employees working on the tech, codenamed "Bubble," with support from software chief Craig Federighi and chief operating officer Jeff Williams, the de facto head of healthcare.

Some of the early members of the "Bubble" team included employees from Apple's health care division, its location services group and various software experts. Eventually, it expanded to include two of Apple's in-house cryptography experts, as well as other team members who volunteered their time.

Initial solutions developed by that team included a Bluetooth-based system that was strictly opt-in, sent anonymous alerts to nearby devices, and stored information in a decentralized manner. Those are all features of the finished exposure notification system.

Another important factor was getting the automated contact tracing to work in the background on iOS, something that hasn't been possible with current security restrictions. Contact tracing endeavors already existed in places like Singapore but were severely hampered because they required an phone to remain unlocked and an app to be open to work.

Google, which was working on its own system under the codename "Apollo," reportedly got on board by the end of March when Android VP Dave Burke got in touch with Apple about the project.

Since the two companies couldn't publicly announce they were working together without the greenlight from their chief executives, Apple CEO Tim Cook met virtually with Google CEO Sundar Pichai to give their final seal of approval for the project.

The Apple and Google exposure notification system is set to be released on May 1, and the system-level API will support the iPhone 6s and later. Because of Google's involvement, the system will also work across iPhones and Android devices.

While it's ultimately up to public health organizations to develop the apps that will take advantage of the API, some countries have decided to go their own route. The UK, for example, won't use the API and instead will rely on a centralized contact tracing database.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    The only way it could have any chance at all for success is for both the Apple and Google teams to work together on a unified code-sharing solution. It won't matter if someone is carrying an Android or iOS smartphone, the owner would be notified of a potential exposure from users of either OS. Kudos to them both. 
    edited April 2020 tmayseanjthinkman@chartermi.netBeats
  • Reply 2 of 12
    Glad to learn Apple’s team members were thinking about privacy and security from the start. The decentralized manner for storing data is phenomenal. 

    I am curious about the phone-to-phone Bluetooth handshake APIs developed. Apple has a well-documented method for doing this for iOS devices. Learning how the method has been extended to support Android devices is going to be interesting.
    lolliver
  • Reply 3 of 12
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,833member
    This sounds like a perfect tiger team approach to going after a specific problem and just “getting it done” while still respecting the fact that some basic  rules and constraints can never be compromised. Congratulations to the team. They will undoubtedly look back at this effort with a certain degree of fondness once things return to “normal” and all of the formality and layered process returns. 
    seanjlolliverthinkman@chartermi.netmichelb76
  • Reply 4 of 12
    jony0jony0 Posts: 345member
    gatorguy said:
    The only way it could have any chance at all for success is for both the Apple and Google teams to work together on a unified code-sharing solution. It won't matter if someone is carrying an Android or iOS smartphone, the owner would be notified of a potential exposure from users of either OS. Kudos to them both. 
    Indeed a platform agnostic implementation is the only viable solution. Although I am not privy to the cooperation methodology, I doubt very much there would be any code-sharing whatsoever. I rather would imagine that both projects came to some common agreement to develop respective tweaks to produce a protocol-sharing solution to be implemented on the phones and servers. Such a protocol could also presumably be implemented in other Chinese forks of Android.
    lolliverheadfull0wine
  • Reply 5 of 12
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    jony0 said:
    gatorguy said:
    The only way it could have any chance at all for success is for both the Apple and Google teams to work together on a unified code-sharing solution. It won't matter if someone is carrying an Android or iOS smartphone, the owner would be notified of a potential exposure from users of either OS. Kudos to them both. 
    Indeed a platform agnostic implementation is the only viable solution. Although I am not privy to the cooperation methodology, I doubt very much there would be any code-sharing whatsoever. I rather would imagine that both projects came to some common agreement to develop respective tweaks to produce a protocol-sharing solution to be implemented on the phones and servers. Such a protocol could also presumably be implemented in other Chinese forks of Android.
    Code sharing as in the users bluetooth token code. Android and iOS operating code would obviously not be interchangeable. 
  • Reply 6 of 12
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    Of course. Google is only there to sniff your underwear.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    gatorguy said:
    The only way it could have any chance at all for success is for both the Apple and Google teams to work together on a unified code-sharing solution. It won't matter if someone is carrying an Android or iOS smartphone, the owner would be notified of a potential exposure from users of either OS. Kudos to them both. 

    That would make iPhoney users happy. I don't want them to be happy.
  • Reply 8 of 12
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    Beats said:
    Of course. Google is only there to sniff your underwear.
    Apple doesn’t  have the reach 
    Google doesn’t have the trust

    They both have smart engineers. It’s a win-win. 


    jony0
  • Reply 9 of 12
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,637member
    jony0 said:
    gatorguy said:
    The only way it could have any chance at all for success is for both the Apple and Google teams to work together on a unified code-sharing solution. It won't matter if someone is carrying an Android or iOS smartphone, the owner would be notified of a potential exposure from users of either OS. Kudos to them both. 
    Indeed a platform agnostic implementation is the only viable solution. Although I am not privy to the cooperation methodology, I doubt very much there would be any code-sharing whatsoever. I rather would imagine that both projects came to some common agreement to develop respective tweaks to produce a protocol-sharing solution to be implemented on the phones and servers. Such a protocol could also presumably be implemented in other Chinese forks of Android.
    Not just platform but country, border and complacency agnostic. 
    When travel resumes, when we all get slack it'll be there.
    When a second wave or new hotspots crop up it'll be in the background with days worth of data ready to isolate the problem much much faster. 

    From what I've read the system is just better in every respect to certainly the one released in my country. 
    Which is so bad the government has resorted to chest beating nationalism, vast lies and outrageous fears to sell. FUDware at its worst. 
  • Reply 10 of 12
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,188member
    The UK's excuse for a citizen-tracking network is insufficient, additionally it's only effective once the app has been installed. The beauty of the Apple/Google system is that it works a layer above such apps, is able to get around certain OS-level security and battery restrictions and can be utilised in a way where a user only needs to install an app if they test positive.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,532member
    Rayz2016 said:
    Beats said:
    Of course. Google is only there to sniff your underwear.
    Apple doesn’t  have the reach 
    Google doesn’t have the trust

    They both have smart engineers. It’s a win-win. 


    Apples win: Their idea of protecting the world is realized.

    Googs win: They get your data using Apples iPhone and tracing technology.

    As usual, the only losers are Android users.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    normmnormm Posts: 637member
    Beats said:
    Apples win: Their idea of protecting the world is realized.

    Googs win: They get your data using Apples iPhone and tracing technology.

    As usual, the only losers are Android users.
    Google finds out nothing.  A user finds out that their phone heard some anonymous tokens that were later labeled "infected."  No one else is told.

    jony0
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